United Kingdom

Critically Insufficient4°C+
NDCs with this rating fall well outside of a country’s “fair share” range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government NDCs were in this range, warming would exceed 4°C. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with warming of greater than 4°C if all other sectors were to follow the same approach.
Highly insufficient< 4°C
NDCs with this rating fall outside of a country’s “fair share” range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government NDCs were in this range, warming would reach between 3°C and 4°C. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with warming between 3°C and 4°C if all other sectors were to follow the same approach.
Insufficient< 3°C
NDCs with this rating are in the least stringent part of a country’s “fair share” range and not consistent with holding warming below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government NDCs were in this range, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with warming over 2°C and up to 3°C if all other sectors were to follow the same approach.
2°C Compatible< 2°C
NDCs with this rating are consistent with the 2009 Copenhagen 2°C goal and therefore fall within a country’s “fair share” range, but are not fully consistent with the Paris Agreement long term temperature goal. If all government NDCs were in this range, warming could be held below, but not well below, 2°C and still be too high to be consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with holding warming below, but not well below, 2°C if all other sectors were to follow the same approach.
1.5°C Paris Agreement Compatible< 1.5°C
This rating indicates that a government’s NDCs in the most stringent part of its “fair share” range: it is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.
Role model<< 1.5°C
This rating indicates that a government’s NDC is more ambitious than what is considered a “fair” contribution: it is more than consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. No “role model” rating has been developed for the sectors.
1.5°C Compatible< 1.5°C
This rating indicates that a government’s NDCs in the most stringent part of its “fair share” range: it is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. For sectors, the rating indicates that the target is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.


According to the government’s existing policies scenario, total GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF) are projected to be roughly 48% below 1990 levels in 2020. This means the UK will substantially overachieve its 2020 emissions target of a 37% reduction below 1990 levels. However, emission reductions over the following decade are projected to be far too slow, with 2030 emissions only five percentage points lower than 2020 levels, at 53% below 1990 levels (UK Government, 2019a).

Under the UK’s ‘Reference Scenario’, which includes decisions on policy design that are sufficiently advanced to allow robust estimates of impact (i.e. including "planned" policies), UK GHG emissions are projected to be a mere 4 MtCO2e lower than under its existing policies scenario in 2030 (UK Government, 2019a). This shows that there is currently a clear lack of momentum in government policy for achieving emission reductions over the next decade.

The UK’s statutory advisory body on climate change, the Committee on Climate Change, stated in 2019 that not only are the government’s current policies and plans insufficient to meet its medium-term emission targets, but that the policy gap has widened in the last year (Committee on Climate Change, 2019c). The UK is not on track to meet its fourth (2023-27) and fifth (2028-2032) carbon budgets, with emission reductions set to stall between 2022 and 2027.

An encouraging development is the adoption in 2019 of a net-zero emission target by 2050, making it the first major economy to do so (UK Government, 2019d), although the government has not outlined how it intends to achieve it. A CCC review of the 2050 target and the measures needed to achieve it, released in mid-2019, highlighted the need for engaging the public on behaviour change, as well as far greater urgency on delivering current plans (Committee on Climate Change, 2019d).

Although the UK is expected to continue realising emission reductions from the electricity sector, it is the projected stagnation and increases in other sectors of the economy that have the UK on its currently deficient emissions reduction trajectory. Only slight CO2 emission reductions are expected in the agriculture and transport sectors, while emissions from residential dwellings are expected to continue rising to 2035 - at least (UK Government, 2019a).

With the UK set to leave the EU by early 2020, it will be expected to submit its own NDC in compliance with the Paris Agreement (Born, 2016). This is a unique opportunity for the UK to considerably scale up its emission reduction targets and set a leading example for other developed countries to do the same. With the UK scheduled to host the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow next year, there is particular impetus for the UK to show leadership in 2020.

The general election scheduled for December 2019 will be pivotal for deciding the rate of decarbonisation of the UK economy, with the opposition Labour party unveiling a number of ambitious commitments across multiple sectors. These measures include £60 billion for energy saving upgrades to existing residential buildings, ensuring all new homes are zero carbon by 2022, a ban of fossil-fuel vehicle sales by 2030 compared to the current 2040 date, and a carbon-neutral energy system by the 2030s (UK Labour Party, 2019). Labour also plans to penalise banks and hedge funds that finance activities contributing to climate change and to incentivise them to invest in green enterprises (Financial Times, 2019a).


The UK electricity sector has been rapidly decarbonising in recent years, with CO2 emissions from the supply of energy reducing by more than half between 2013 and 2018. This is primarily due to a sharp drop in coal-based electricity production, replaced by increasing production from renewables and natural gas (UK Government, 2019e).

In current government projections, coal is currently projected to be phased out by 2023, two years ahead of its 2025 phase-out target. This makes the UK a world leader in this regard, and is well ahead of the 2030 phase-out date for OECD countries required to limit global warming to below 1.5°C (Climate Action Tracker, 2016; UK Government, 2019a). The UK in conjunction with Canada, founded the Powering Past Coal Alliance in 2017, a global alliance of national and sub-national governments, businesses and organisations working to advance the transition away from unabated coal power generation by 2030 for OECD countries like the UK (Powering Past Coal Alliance, 2019).

The UK energy sector is currently subject to the conditions of the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), although this is shortly set to change upon the UK exiting the EU. The UK’s stated preference is for the establishment of a linked UK ETS, and negotiations on such a scheme were ongoing in late 2019. This was backed up by the CCC which recommended such an ETS linked to the EU scheme, and that the cap should be based on the cost-effective path to the UK’s net-zero 2050 target (UK Committee on Climate Change, 2019). In the event that this is not possible, the government has committed to the creation of a standalone ETS, or the implementation of a carbon tax. In 2017 under the government’s Clean Growth Strategy, the UK committed to any future ETS being at least as ambitious as the existing EU ETS (UK Government, 2018a).


A surge in renewable energy generation between 2017 and 2018 saw renewables overtake natural gas as the largest source of electricity generation in 2018, while renewables-based supply is projected to be double that from natural gas by 2022 (UK Government, 2019e). Despite this, natural gas will need to be scaled down considerably over the next decade in order to meet existing emission reduction targets.

In the third quarter of 2019, the electricity output from renewables totalled an estimated 29.5 TWh, outpacing the quarterly output from all fossil fuels combined for the first time ever (Evans, 2019a). This is a stunning turnaround from just nine years ago, when total fossil fuel-based electricity generation was more than ten times that of renewables (Evans, 2019b).

Despite this, the government has resisted calls to set a carbon-intensity target of below 100gCO2/kWh by 2030 as recommended by its statutory advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (Committee on Climate Change, 2018). The government’s energy white paper scheduled for release in early 2020 would be an ideal time to include such a target.

The UK government has confirmed its commitment to growing its offshore wind power industry with the announcement of a further £250 million in funding in 2019 on top of 2018’s £557 million already pledged for clean power auctions (UK Government, 2019f). Offshore wind energy is expected to generate a third of UK electricity by 2030. The story is not so promising for onshore wind, which the government blocked from competing for subsidies in 2015 leading to a 94% decline in the number of new applications between 2015 and 2018 (Unwin, 2019).

Residential solar PV is also currently facing difficulties of its own, with slow rates of growth seen since incentives were slashed dramatically in early 2016 (Vaughan, 2018). Upon subsidies being cut completely in April 2019, installations subsequently fell by 94% in May (Ambrose, 2019a). The government has announced a replacement policy called the Smart Export Guarantee which compels large energy suppliers to offer an export tariff to customers, however this is not scheduled to start until 1 January 2020 (UK Government, 2019g). This leaves a nine-month gap in customer incentives to install solar PV, creating hardship for solar installers.


Japanese companies Toshiba and Hitachi each decided to cancel the planned construction of their respective UK nuclear power plants within two months of each other in late 2018 and early 2019 (Financial Times, 2019b). This has thrown the government’s energy policy into disarray, with experts noting that the problems faced by these cancelled plants, primarily their high cost of energy production and the rapidly falling cost of renewables, are not unique to them, but are also being faced by the remaining three nuclear plants planned by the UK government. The Hinkley Point C plant currently under construction continues to register cost blowouts and delays (Gosden, 2019).

In light of these cancellations, there have been growing calls for a review of the UK’s energy policies. In October, it was announced that the much-anticipated Energy White Paper, expected mid-2019, has now been delayed until Q1 2020 (Lempriere, 2019).

A recent announcement of £220 million in funding for the design of a nuclear fusion power station confirms the UK’s commitment to the long term development of this technology (Reuters, 2019). However, the completion of a large-scale plant is not expected before 2040, and with this as-yet-unproven technology’s history of setbacks and delays, the relevance of this technology in contributing to the government’s 2050 net zero emissions target is questionable.

Oil and gas

Government projections show that oil and natural gas will still constitute over 70% of total UK primary energy demand in 2030 (UK Government, 2019h). With 60% of current oil and gas demand in the UK being met by domestic production, it can be expected that the local oil and gas industry will remain a significant component of the UK economy across the next decade.

The only way natural gas could contribute to the 2050 net-zero emission target is with the extensive utilisation of carbon capture and storage, a technology not yet commercially viable. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has also explicitly outlined the need to move away from natural gas for residential heating, as the emissions resulting from this consumption cannot be sequestered (Committee on Climate Change, 2019d).

The residential sector constituted 62% of total UK final natural gas demand in 2018, which demonstrates the extent to which natural gas consumption must decrease over time (UK Government, 2019i). The government has indicated it plans to ban gas heating systems in new dwellings from 2025 (Taylor, 2019).

In a positive development, natural gas fracking was suspended across England from November 2019. However, the UK government admitted that this suspension was not permanent. Andrea Leadsom, the UK Business Secretary, added that a permanent ban was not implemented because shale gas is something the UK “will need for the next several decades”, and that it is a “huge opportunity for the United Kingdom” (Cowburn, 2019). This is in contrast to findings that energy transformation without natural gas is possible and that continued investment in natural gas infrastructure risks these assets becoming stranded (Climate Action Tracker, 2017).

Election implications

With a general election set for 12 December 2019, the opposition Labour party has sought to differentiate itself on the issue of climate change. Its recently released ‘Thirty Recommendations by 2030’ report proposes almost 90% of renewable and zero-carbon electricity by 2030 in order to achieve net zero emissions by then (UK Labour Party, 2019). This includes a near tripling of solar PV capacity from the current 13GW to 35GW by 2030, to supply 9% of the UK’s energy.

Also included in this report is a proposal for a near sevenfold increase in offshore wind capacity to 52GW, which would make it the UK’s single largest source of electricity. Together with the recommended onshore wind capacity increase, wind power would be expected to produce 55% of UK electricity. With the recommended level of solar PV included, this reaches a 69% renewable energy share of total energy supply by 2030, 22 percentage points higher than the latest government projections (Evans, 2019c).


Since 2016, the transport sector in the UK has produced more GHG emissions each year than any other sector, and given the slow rate of projected emission reductions to 2030, this is projected to remain the case (UK Government, 2019a). Between 2019 and 2030, UK transport emissions are projected to fall by only 11% based on current policies.

Electric Vehicles

All new cars sold in the UK from 2040 will be “effectively zero carbon” under current government plans announced in 2011 (DEFRA and DfT, 2017), which puts the UK in a relatively small group of countries that have announced a fossil-fuel vehicle ban (Climate Transparency, 2019). However, the ban has been derided as vague and unambitious by the government’s own Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee (UK Government, 2018b) and is currently not set to include hybrid vehicles which still produce carbon emissions (BBC News, 2018a). The government has committed to thoroughly explore the case for an earlier, 2035 deadline, as part of its Climate Action Roadmap currently under preparation for release in 2020. Any update to the ban should also be legislated to provide greater certainty of success, unlike the current ban which has not been legislated (Ambrose, 2019b). The 2040 deadline is too late, and the CCC and the government’s own BEIS Committee have both called for a date closer to 2030 (Committee on Climate Change, 2019c).

In 2018, the government cut subsidies for plug-in vehicles, with the subsidy for battery electric vehicles cut from £4,500 to £3,500, while grants for plug-in hybrids were cut completely despite an aspiration of to up to 70% of new car sales being ultra-low emission by 2030 (BBC News, 2018b).

The Road to Zero Strategy was released in 2018 and includes £106 million to develop low and zero-emission vehicles in the UK (UK Department of Transport, 2018). This was matched by a £500 million commitment from industry. The strategy outlines the UK’s aim to be at the forefront of the design and manufacture of zero emission vehicles. The strategy also includes: measures to reduce emissions from existing vehicles like increasing the supply of low carbon fuels and extending the scope of commercial vehicle retrofits, the launch of a £400 million Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund, and ensuring 100% of the UK government vehicle fleet is ultra-low emission by 2030.

In 2018, the UK also unveiled an international initiative to catalyse the worldwide deployment of green vehicles and associated infrastructure called the Birmingham Deceleration (BBC News, 2018c). The initial signatories to this initiative include Italy, France, Denmark, UAE, Portugal, Belarus, and Indonesia, although no details have been provided on this initiative as yet.


The £1.2 billion Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy provides funding over the period 2016-2021 for new infrastructure and upgrades as well as cycling proficiency training for children (UK Government, 2017a). The policies included in this strategy are expected to reduce UK emissions by 7.5 MtCO2e between 2013 and 2032. The strategy aims to make walking and cycling the natural choices for shorter journeys in every urban and rural community in England, reducing commuting by car and other car travel and its associated emissions.

Vehicle standards

UK vehicle emission standards are currently dictated by EU regulations which since 2015 have set a limit of 130 gCO2/km for new passenger vehicles (European Commission, 2019). In 2019, a new emission standard of 95 gCO2/km for new passenger vehicles from 2021 was passed into EU law, although it remains to be seen whether the UK will maintain this upon leaving the EU. Between 2013 and 2032, fuel efficiency standards for cars are projected to reduce emissions by 155.6 MtCO2e, however this also includes road transport electrification policies.


Emissions from business and industry in the UK have fallen significantly since 1990, sitting roughly 43% below 1990 levels in 2018 (UK Government, 2019a). This has been driven, in particular, by plummeting industrial process emissions (-81% since 1990). With a tonne of steel now requiring 40% less energy to produce in the UK than it did 40 years ago (UK Government, 2017b), this demonstrates that emission reductions have been realised through both efficiency gains and decreased output. Under current policies, emissions from this sector are projected to fall a further 22% below 2018 levels by 2030 (UK Government, 2019a).

In 2017, the UK government released a series of eight sector-specific action plans setting out government and industry commitments to decarbonise and increase energy efficiency (BEIS, 2017a). Common across many sectors in these action plans are the following prescribed actions: clustering of industrial sites to deliver energy savings, switching fuel use to biomass, utilisation of carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency measures, and electrification of heat (BEIS, 2017b). The measures identified in these action plans are, however, voluntary commitments, and therefore compliance is not guaranteed.

The UK’s Industrial Strategy, which outlines four ‘grand challenges’, one of which is to “maximise the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth” was also released in 2017 (UK Government, 2017c). Specifically outlined in the strategy are commitments to: develop smart energy systems to remodel the electricity grid, transform construction techniques to improve efficiency, invest £162 million in innovation for a low-carbon industry, and build on the sector specific action plans to further cut energy use and improve productivity.

The main policies in place that target industry emissions are the F-gas regulation, the Climate Change Levy, the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme, and the Industrial Heat Recovery Support initiative.

The F-gas Regulation is an EU-wide regulation in place since 2015 that will cut total EU F-gas emissions by two thirds below 2014 levels by 2030. This is slightly below the reduction required under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol which requires a 70% reduction below the average consumption between 2011-2013 by 2029 (UNEP, 2019). For the UK, it is projected that cumulative emissions will be reduced by 107.5 MtCO2e over the period 2018-2032 as a result of this policy. A UK specific legislation covering F-gas emissions was passed in 2019, ensuring the continuation of emission reductions beyond the UK’s exit from the EU (UK Government, 2019j).

The UK’s Climate Change Levy (CCL), introduced in 2001, is a tax on the supply of energy in the industry, commerce and public sectors which has facilitated an increase in energy efficiency since its inception (UK Government, 2017b). CCL rates have increased over time, last being ratcheted up in April 2019, while the government has announced it plans to continue increasing rates in the future to drive further efficiency gains (UK Government, 2019k).

To comply with the EU’s Energy Implemented Efficiency Directive, the UK established the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), a mandatory energy assessment scheme for large businesses. It requires companies to measure their total energy consumption and carry out audits to identify cost-effective energy savings measures (UK Government, 2017b). With an announcement by the government that they intend to simplify energy reporting into a single scheme, ESOS may change from its current form after the UK leaves the EU. This policy is expected to reduce UK emissions by 10.4 MtCO2e cumulatively between 2013 and 2032.

The Industrial Heat Recovery Support initiative was launched in 2018 to encourage the reuse of waste heat from industrial processes. This initiative includes £18 million in funding towards feasibility studies and to subsidise the deployment of heat recovery technologies and is expected to reduce emissions by 1.5 MtCO2e cumulatively between 2018 and 2032 (UK Government, 2019k).


In 2030, GHG emissions from agriculture are projected to be less than 8% or 3.5 MtCO2e lower compared to 2018 levels under current policies (UK Government, 2019a).

The UK’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan for Agriculture (GHGAP), implemented in 2011, is an industry-led initiative and the principal mechanism for delivering reductions in emissions from agriculture across England (Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 2017). In a review completed in 2016, it was found the initiative had achieved a total reduction of 1 MtCO2e as of that year. Emission reductions are expected to pick up pace in the third carbon budget, with an expected 3 MtCO2e per year expected by the end of 2022. In order to achieve this level of mitigation, however, it was conceded that further uptake of proven methods is necessary. The next review of the GHGAP is scheduled for 2020.

The Scottish Government in 2018 released its Climate Change Plan, which details sectoral emission reductions to 2032. Under this plan, the agriculture sector has a target of a 9% reduction below 2018 levels by 2032, amounting to a 0.8 MtCO2e fall in emissions (Scottish Government, 2018).

Under the Welsh Climate Change Strategy, a 2020 target of a 0.6 to 1.5 MtCO2e emission reduction below the average 2006-2008 level has been in place since 2010 (Welsh Government, 2010).

A wide-ranging Agriculture Bill that aims to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment across Britain was debated in late 2018, but was stalled for almost a year until being reintroduced after the Queen’s speech in October 2019 (Hill, 2019). The bill confirms that emission reduction activities, including tree planting, would qualify for public funding under the proposed Environmental Land Management System (Committee on Climate Change, 2019c). However, with an election scheduled for December 2019, there are concerns that the bill will fail to be passed into law by then, requiring a restart to the legislative process (McCarthy, 2019).


Since 1990, the land sector has acted as a carbon sink for the UK, with decreasing emissions from agriculture combining with removals from forestry resulting in net negative emissions from this sector. In 1990, the land sector emitted around 0.3 MtCO2e, by 2017, the sector had become a net sink and sequestered 10 MtCO2e. In 2030, the land sector is projected to remain a sink, sequestering around 11 MtCO2e (UK Government, 2019a).

In 2018, the UK government released its “25 Year Environment Plan” to improve the natural environment (UK Government, 2018c). This report outlines a target of increasing the area of woodland in England to 12% by 2060 by planting 180,000 ha by 2042. The total area of Woodland in the UK stood at 3.19 million ha in 2019 (Forest Research, 2019). It also commits the government to designing a new “woodland creation grant scheme”, which aims to incentivise large scale afforestation to meet the UK’s carbon goals.

As part of this plan, the government has committed to plant 11 million trees in England between 2017 and 2022 (Forestry Commission, 2018). Across the 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years, a reported 3.64 million trees were planted, equating to approximately 2,318 ha, meaning the government is not currently on track to meet its target (Forestry Commission, 2019).

Scotland has been doing much of the heavy lifting recently when it comes to tree planting, having planted roughly eight times more trees than were planted in England in 2018/19 (BBC News, 2019). Overall however, the UK reached less than 50% of the 30,000 ha/yr rate of tree planting recommended by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to help meet the UK’s climate targets. The CCC has stipulated this rate would need to be raised to 50,000 ha/yr if carbon reduction targets are not met.

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